A Plausible Explanation for the Otherwise Inexplicable

One of the disquieting realizations I’ve come to during this interminable campaign is just how many things I don’t understand.

Hard as it has been for me to “get” why any sentient being would support Donald Trump, I’ve been particularly confused about why Evangelical Christians would support a thrice-married admitted adulterer who boasts about his greed, talks about the size of his penis and has a long history of distinctly unChristian behaviors.

It certainly isn’t because they agree with his policy proposals. He doesn’t have any. (Martin Longman recently explained why policy has played such a minor role in this campaign: Despite the fact that Clinton has advanced multiple proposals,  you can’t have a policy debate with rageoholic voters, or with a candidate more focused on beauty queens and his penis than with what is ailing America.)

Not all Evangelicals support Trump, of course, but a significant number do, and I’ve been at a loss to account for that support. I recently came across an interview with Robert P. Jones, the author of “The End of White Christian America” that offers a plausible explanation.

I went back and looked at remarks Trump made at that evangelical college in Iowa in January. There it became really clear to me that he really wasn’t making the case that he was an evangelical. Instead he was making the case that he saw their power slipping from the scene and that he was going to be the guy who would do something about it. He very explicitly said in that message in January in Iowa, “When I’m president, I’m going to restore power to the Christian churches. We’re not going to be saying ‘Happy Holidays,’ we’re going to be saying ‘Merry Christmas.’”

In the book, Jones talks about the politics of nostalgia and grievance–important clues to Trump’s appeal.

When I think and write about white Christian America in the book, I use the term to refer to this big cultural and political edifice that white Protestants built in this country. This world allowed white Protestants to operate with a whole set of unquestioned assumptions. It really is the era of June Cleaver and Leave It to Beaver and Andy Griffith. This sense of nostalgia is very powerful for white Christians, particularly conservative white Christians, who could see themselves in that mythical depiction of 1950s America, but who are having a more difficult time seeing their place in a rapidly changing country….

 What has become most important to the eight in ten white evangelical voters who are now saying they’re voting for Trump over Clinton is that in Trump they see someone who is going to restore their vision of America. It is a vision which really does look like 1950s America. It’s pre-civil rights, it’s pre-women’s rights, and it’s before immigration policy was opened up in the mid-1960s. And most of all, it’s a time when white Protestants were demographically in the majority. But just over the last two election cycles, we’ve gone from a majority white Christian country to a minority white Christian country, from 54 percent white Christian in 2008 to 45 percent white Christian today. So this nostalgic vision of the country harkens back to a mythical golden age when white Protestants really did hold sway in the country, both in terms of numbers and in terms of cultural power.

As Jones sees it, Trump’s real appeal to white evangelicals—how they hear “Make American Great Again”—is his promise to turn back the clock and restore their power, a promise Jones puts in the same category as “I’m going to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it.”

Obviously, neither is going to happen. But then, reality isn’t Trump’s–or his supporters’–natural habitat. Grievance is.

There simply may not be “a bridge too far” for these voters, but I can’t help wondering how they  will rationalize away yesterday’s disclosure of a tape of Trump bragging about grabbing women by the p—y” ….


  1. And now this idiot think he can grab America by the P@@@y.
    This should be a telling weekend.

  2. Jim Wallis published in Huffington Post “Evangelicals, You Keep Using That Word.” I don’t know how to put the link here. Just search the words in quotes. Wallis has a detailed study.

  3. I know some single issue voters whose motivation is guns. That’s their sole litmus test for a candidate. They are convinced HRC will take their AR-15s away and Trump will not. Outside that one point, he could be an out and proud puppet of Putin and they would still vote for him. Revelations ( as if we didn’t already know this about him) like yesterday’s will not dissuade his base, but his base is not enough to get him to 270.

  4. Like you Sheila, I too have found myself standing on quicksand trying to figure out the support of Donald Trump. I get the angry former middle class white males. I’ve seen that anger in my neighborhood and in some of my family, and on low days even in myself. But the Evangelicals? And the Catholics? All I come up with is “Maybe it isn’t christianity after all.” Maybe it has never been about religious beliefs. Maybe it has always just been about having power over others. The power to hold one’s own worldview over others and make them live by it so that they, the christians, feel all safe and warm and fuzzy. Pure and simple…. power. Yep, that’s it, power.

  5. Something important has been overlooked here; Trump announced weeks ago that his Vice President would handle foreign and domestic affairs. Per one report; when his son was asked what Trump would be doing , he responded that good old Dad would spend his time making America great. Another plan with no plan. Pence is no more qualified, prepared or able to “handle” this country’s foreign and domestic affairs than Trump is able to control his mouth. Are the Evangelicals satisfied with the possibility of Pence in control? Or is that their goal due to his successful RFRA history here in Indiana?

  6. I call Pence and his ilk Deuteronomy bound, New Testament challenged Christians. They love the Bible, but mostly the Old Testament that gives weight to their prejudices. It even gives men permission to have lots of wives and mistresses. For Republicans this just means tell the world how sorry they are and go stay at C Street for a couple of weeks. When they emerge from the C Street house, they will have been cleansed of all their sins. That’s the part of the New Testament they like – forgiveness (just for them, not for any other sinners).

  7. The white middle class members have lost their sense of power (or what they perceived as power) and they are willing to get into bed with the devil as long as he tells them what they want to hear. Actually, isn’t that how the stories about Satan are told in the bible? He preys on their weaknesses and entices people with what they want to be told?

    Trump has claimed that he knows more about any subject or any issue than Anyone Else in the country and is promising to fix it all because he is the Only One who can. No one else knows as much as he does about how to make this country great again. His supporters have been too foolish to demand that he tell them how he plans to accomplish all that he claims he will do. He has not offered a single plan because he has no plans. He and Pence realize that they don’t need to tell their supporters the truth.

    I am amazed at how easy it is to manipulate people when you are telling them what they want to hear. Of course, I do realize that this is how any politician gets elected. But never before have there been so many red lights flashing that should have turned people away by now.

    His base of supporters will continue to vote for him because they have been convinced that Hillary is a liar and a killer and they have also been convinced over many years that the Dem party is all about raising their taxes and giving their hard earned money to the lazy people who refuse to work. The Koch brothers and their cohorts have done an excellent job of gaining ultimate power over this country by utilizing their “fake foundations” to feed their lies to those who will listen.

  8. Theresa,

    “Maybe it isn’t christianity after all.” Maybe it has never been about religious beliefs. Maybe it has always just been about having power over others.”

    That’s what it is. It’s pretty much like a cardboard box of “white power” wrapped in beautiful Christmas like red, white, and blue metallic paper.

    By the way, I didn’t lose any power. The Gods must have been with me on this one. Not a limb from any tree was broken that would have diminished the magnificent view that I have from my condo.

    Trump/Pence is a potentially catastrophic event if they win. As I mentioned a few days ago, you prepare for a catastrophic event like a hurricane before it hits, not after. If you don’t, then it’s too late.

    You can’t take the chance that your misperception of events will cause a fatal miscalculation.

    We have about 30 days left to prepare for the socio-political catastrophe on the horizon. It will take much more than the Democratic Party to accomplish that mission.

  9. I have read several pieces by ministers arguing that Trump, like the rest of us, is “flawed,” but is coming back to Jesus. The writers seem to be really stretching to accept him because they fear the liberal agenda at all costs. Abortion also seems to be a key theme.

  10. And now an insincere “apology” that was nothing more than a campaign speech. What a toad. Here’s my question: if Trump would return America to the 1950s, what century would Pence return us to?

  11. A long time ago, some pretty forward-thinking people thought we needed a system of checks and balances in our new government. There is now a candidate for the highest office in the land who has no system of checks and balances in his life–neither personal nor business life.

    His solution to his latest mess (and it is completely vile and disgusting) is to seemingly say, “You think I’m bad? Look how bad Bill and Hillary are!” Not very presidential, Donald, not at all!

  12. Another facet of the same gem is what conservative pundit Hugh Hewitt says is Trump’s appeal to those who think the culture wars have washed over them like a tsunami. Abortion, gay rights and marriage, transgenders in restrooms, too much sex and violence on TV, too many immigrants – especially those of other than Christian religions – and now Black Lives Matter leave some gasping for the air of the good ole days you describe.

    Much of this blame for this desperation is focused on the Supreme Court. Regardless of how ‘off the rails’ Trump is on everything else, he promises to appoint a Supreme Court who will win the culture wars for evangelical conservatives. Correctly sensing that he has credibility issues with conservative Christians, Trump has gone so far as to publish a list of prospective Court appointees he knows will win kudos from the Christian Right.

    The mis-alignment of Trump’s public and private persona is much like that of the ‘powers that were’ during prohibition. Alcohol was illegal, but the well-connected and Trump in particular have always had whatever they wanted.

  13. Two quick comments. Don’t look now but within four years Evangelicals will not be a political force and in fact they are not now.
    In an interesting development the polls as of Thursday, before Trump’s latest tape release, shows the Presidential elections a dead heat in Indiana.
    What matters in that poll is not the numbers but the direction and momentum of change.
    Of course with the release of the tapes on his attitude on women Trump will have a bump up in Indiana. Don’t kid yourself.

  14. Trump is the Trojan horse. The Republican Party has been floating the idea of forcing a swap in their places on the ballot.

    And why not? Pence looks sane to white Evangelicals who do not consider themselves to be racists. And he looks “Presidential.” The Koch brothers, in particular, would be very happy with Mikey at the helm.

    It would not surprise me if there were not a last minute (in the last two weeks of the campaign) change to the ballot – enough time to give the R’s a bounce, and not enough time for the D’s to mount an adequate response.

    Canada probably won’t take me, so I’m considering Costa Rica.

  15. It’s not about religion. They want to further their agenda. Ralph Reed just said it on NPR this am. They are still backing Trump because they believe he will help remove a woman’s right to her own reproductive health choices, RFRA advancement, appointments of conservative supreme court judges, and the list goes on for the so called conservative NOT CHRISTIAN Evangelical. Sheila you are exactly right again! They are not the majority and they are scared of change.

  16. I have nothing further to add, everyone has been on the mark here. In fact, I’m just speechless. Every single day, I read the news and something more awful comes out in this campaign. It’s really making me depressed. I need to find a different distraction. I’m going to fill out my AZ ballot and try to ignore the news for the next 30 days. But I’m a junkie so for you religious people, please say a prayer for me.

  17. My confidence is high there is no Plausible Explanation for the cognitive dissonance displayed by the Republican Base. It is like trying to understand the Religious Rejection of Evolution when every bit of science has revealed a universe that is billions of years old rather than the 10,000 year old young earth.

    The Republican Base has gathered around an anti-knowledge rejecting science they do not like. Peggy noted above the Evangelicals hope for the Old Testament fire, brimstone and maybe a hurricane to punish “those” evil doers, and reach forward to the New Testament for their own forgiveness when they stray off course.

    Pence will have to figure out a way to cover for the Trumpet and at the same time not come across as endorsing unrestrained sex and rock and roll. It will be a chaos type of defense, no logic at all.

  18. The past is priviledged for white, Christian, heterosexual, middle class, male, capitalist, voters.

    The future is messy for everyone due to the fact that humanity has obsoleted most everything we’ve known.

    Pretend that you’re a white, Christian, heterosexual, middle class, male, capitalist and that you could choose between the two.

    To me the answer is obvious.

    It’s nostalgia vs reality.

  19. We are at the point of “how much does it take”? If Pence is honestly as deeply religious as he claims, he needs to withdraw today, no delay. However, we know he’s a pathological liar who can look straight at a camera and deny that he or Trump said things that are on video. We also know that Pence is just as egotistical and blindly ambitious as Trump–he just expresses it differently.

    The Trump campaign has carefully studied his supporters, and they know that a large number of them don’t really support him (how could any reasonable person?)–they just hate the thought of a woman, especially Hillary Clinton, becoming President, and are deluded into believing that somehow that bloated orange-haired megalomaniac can return this county to the 1950’s pre-civil rights, pre womens’ rights era they long for–the time when there were good factory jobs that provided a lifetime of security. That’s the illogical dream they’re voting for, and the fact that Trump is an ignoramus, misogynist, racist liar doesn’t faze them. He touched a chord in their hearts.

    This explains the Trump campaign strategy to dodge direct questions about Trump’s misadventures and turn the discussion to Hillary and Bill Clinton. That’s what you’ll hear on Sunday. Access Hollywood said it had a massive additional number of tapes of Trump. No doubt, they’ll be similar to what was released on Friday, but will it be enough? Why won’t reasonable Republicans disavow this loser now? Would a tape of him raping a woman be enough? How much does it take?

  20. While reading a Facebook post regarding Crapo and Ayotte both withdrawing their votes for Trump in this election there was a red banner across the top of the screen: CNN Breaking News…

    Mike Pence said he cannot defend Donald Trump’s remarks about women. “I do not condone his remarks and cannot defend them.”

    Now; let’s see if this is reported on CNN or any news broadcast. The comment made by Trump eleven years ago is no different than his attitude and total disrespect for all women today; it just hasn’t accidentally been announced over a live mic…yet. Ayotte states she plans to write-in Mike Pence on her ballot on election day.

  21. There is no mystery. Humans are pack animals.

    Religion is an authoritarian structure. The religious people think they care about God, but they don’t really know themselves. All they care about is the structure of authority and the security it provides to them.

    The authority structure is changing. That is frightening to people who are relatively unintelligent and struggle to understand new things. They want a preservation of the old structure, thus conservatism.

    Donny and these people and God have nothing in common. Donny and these people and authoritarianism have everything in common.

  22. JoAnn,

    Although Pence claims he can’t condine Trump’s words/actions it certainly has not caused him to say that he would not still support him, with the chance for more personal power in office for himself. He would have vehemently condemned anyone else.

  23. Natacha,

    Why won’t reasonable Republicans disavow this loser now? Would a tape of him raping a woman be enough? How much does it take?

    No. Donald Trump raping another woman would not be enough at this point in time. He’s PREMATURELY activated the long-planned white supremacy takeover centered within the Republican Party.

    How much does it take? The suicidal direction will not be changed until a significant portion inside and out of the Republican Party can be convinced that they are also going to be victims, big time. That’s the only realistic solution. It will take a root cause analysis, more specifically, an uncontroverted socio/political “MRI” of the body politic of America to get past the massive cognitive dissonance, the ignorance, the propaganda, the hatred, and death wishes which make-up much of the Trump/Pence supporters both in and out of the Republican Party.

    Nothing else is possible now since the Republican Party has passed the POINT OF NO RETURN. They will not retreat unless they see themselves personally being RAPED or plundered.

    rape (rap) n. [prob. < L rapere, seize] 1. the crime of having sexual intercourse with a person forcibly and without consent. 2. the plundering (of a city, etc.), as in warfare–vt. raped, raping 1. to commit rape on; violate 2. to plunder or destroy–vi. to commit rape–rap'ist n.

    Another important word that might well relate to Donald Trump's past or future modus operandi:
    plun-der (plun'dar) vt. vi. [< Ger plunder, baggage] 1. to rob or pillage 2. to take (property) by force or fraud–n. 1. a plundering 2. things taken by force or fraud

  24. And to all of you; Trump is the one who continues getting all of the FREE campaign publicity. His immorality, thievery, racism, bigotry and general hatred of all those he has in his cross hairs, past and present, is like a bloody wreck you can’t take your eyes from.

    Just read Facebook posts that 150 top level Republicans have pulled their support from Trump and the RNC has cut his campaign funding along with stopping all printing of campaign information. But; as Nancy stated about Pence, they didn’t say they will NOT vote for him.

    What will the morrow bring?

  25. JoAnn,

    “…150 top level Republicans have pulled their support from Trump and the RNC has cut his campaign funding. But; as Nancy stated about Pence, they didn’t say they will NOT vote for him.”

    They all stand for what he stands for. It’s the style they’re rejecting, not the substance. They’re only protecting their so-called reputations. He needs very little campaign funding since, as you have pointed out, the media promotes him free of charge.

  26. ”Access Hollywood” host Billy Bush who hosted the Trumpet is, a cousin of George and Jeb Bush. Interesting Bush is presently a co-host of the third hour of NBC’s Today Show. Bush co-hosted the Miss Universe pageant four times: Miss USA pageant four times. Commenting on the controversy, The Economist noted: “Who would have thought that Mr Bush, a presenter of NBC’s Today news show, could end up playing a more influential role in this election than his cousin Jeb, whom many Republicans once expected to win it?”[
    Now back to the Trumpet: From 1996 until 2015, when he sold his interests, Trump owned part or all of the Miss Universe, Miss USA, and Miss Teen USA beauty pageants. Trump was dissatisfied with how CBS scheduled his pageants, and took both Miss Universe and Miss USA to NBC in 2002. source WIKI.

    At first when I heard about this story, I was curious why this had not surfaced during the Republican Primary. I have a strong suspicion to a certainty that the Bush Family knew all about this tape. However, the big downside would have been in revealing it, would mean Billy Bush would be out there too as a crude, vulgar man in his own right. Perhaps other Republicans knew about this “interview” also and decided to protect the “good image” of the Bush Family.

  27. Regarding my 1:46 p.m. comment yesterday; I am proud (and astounded) to report that the Indianapolis Star posted Pence’s comments on the front page today. Headline article, above the fold with a picture of a dejected Mike Pence, “Pence: I ‘cannot defend’ Trump’s comments”. It is a lengthy, well written article by Maureen Groppe, Chelsea Schneider and Tony Cook.

    It naturally supports Pence and puts him in a rather good light (currently and for the possible foreseeable 2020 presidential bid) but does stress his previous, continuing support and excuses for all Trump has said and done…TILL NOW!

  28. Donald Trump has lit the flame of the hatred inside the Republican Party and its many, many, supporters. And it is spreading out of control. If he has a political demise, it will not put out the fire it will only be directed at Hillary Clinton if she is elected President. Trump allows for criticism.

    That’s not the case for Pence. You can’t effectively criticize him. He has the cloak of Christianity. And he wears it very effectively.

    As I have previously stated: Donald Trump is Santa Claus! Appreciate his gifts to the possible survival of democracy in America. They’re called REALITY and TRUTH. And we better take advantage of it, PRONTO!

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